Electric Helicopter Flight Sets Guinness World Record: Video


This all-electric helicopter takes flight for the best cause.

Many people doubt electric-powered flight even more than electric cars. This makes sense since range is a much greater concern when you’re airborne. Nonetheless, we’ve seen some pretty amazing electric airplanes lately, as well as a handful of electric helicopters. However, this full-size all-electric helicopter has beat all odds.

Tier 1 Engineering is working on an all-electric helicopter for Lung Biotechnology. It will deliver human organs to hospitals for transplant surgeries. To do so without further polluting the air is a commendable achievement.

The California-based engineering firm started with a Robinson R44 helicopter and added ~67 kWh of lithium polymer batteries and twin electric motors. The motors came from Formula 1 hybrid supplier Rinehart Motion Systems, while electric motorcycle maker Brammo supplied the batteries.

The previous record was set way back in 2011, when an electric chopper took flight in France for just two minutes. Now, in December 2018, the Tier 1 helicopter finally makes its way into the Guinness Book of World Records for its 22-minute flight. The attempt began at the Los Alamitos Army Airfield and reached an altitude of 800 feet at 92 mph.

*The above video is from a few years ago, but the helicopter just set the Guinness record on December 7, 2018.

Video Description via Tier 1 Engineering on YouTube:

Historic battery-powered helicopter flight at Los Alamitos Army Airfield

Tier 1 Engineering’s battery-powered manned helicopter program achieved a record five minute cruise flight to 400 feet altitude with a peak speed of 80 knots on Wednesday, September 21st, 2016. The helicopter was a modified Robinson R44 test piloted by Captain Ric Webb of OC Helicopters. Tier 1 Engineering accomplished the project under contract from Lung Biotechnology PBC to produce an Electrically-Powered Semi-Autonomous Rotorcraft for Organ Delivery (EPSAROD). Documentation of the flight is available at http://www.tier1engineering.com/news.

Source: YouTube via Green Car Reports

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29 Comments on "Electric Helicopter Flight Sets Guinness World Record: Video"

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Wonder what the noise levels and performance differences are for a comparable helicopter.

The noise signature is going to be about the same. Tail rotor noise is the loadest followed by main rotor and finally engine noise. The speed of the tail and main rotor are unchanged, so the noise is unchanged.

Electric helicopters powered by fuel cells have achieved more than eight hours of flight endurance, which blows away the paltry 22-minute flight time of this electric helicopter powered by batteries.

The Achilles heel of battery-powered aircraft is the poor energy to weight ratio of current batteries. Also, unlike fuel, a the battery doesn’t get lighter as it gets depleted. As fuel is consumed by an aircraft, it gets lighter, increasing range and flight time.

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Yeah, you’ll really shed weight as H2 is depleted from it heavy storage container. /s

Heavy storage container? It’s actually lightweight when you compare it to the 1,100 lb 67kWh lithium-polymer battery in the battery-powered helicopter, as per the GreenCarReports source article. With only 22 minutes of flight time, that works out to 50 lbs of batteries for each minute of flight time!!!

To match the 6+ hour flight time of the fuel cell helicopter, you would need a battery about 18 times bigger, since 20 minutes is 1/18th of 6 hours. That works out to a 1,206 kWh battery (67 kWH x 18), which would weigh a whopping 19,800 lbs (1,100 x 18)!!! But then you would have to add much, much more battery to get this battery-powered helicopter off the ground, since the battery now weighs almost 20,000 lbs, instead of 1,100 lbs it did before.


Lithium ion batteries keep improving significantly every year. I think the rule of thumb a few years back was doubling energy density (which is the same as halving the weight) every 10 years? And more recently, the improvements have come even faster.

It won’t be too many more years before we see short-range propeller-driven commercial aircraft powered by batteries. Good luck to you “fool cell” fanboys in figuring out a magic way to improve the hydrogen molecule. That’s what you’ll need to make fool cell aircraft commercially feasible: magic.


The link for the fuel cell helicopter provides no details, and is not credible. While you cite a 6 hour flight time, the link provided cites an 8 hour flight time. No additional details are provided. The website linked to appears to be fake nonsense.

The weight comparison is not to battery power, but to gas power. Both of these technologies, battery and fuel cells, are impractical for aircraft right now. Aircraft have dramatically different weight requirements than cars, and as mentioned they get a lot of range from the fact that the weight of the fuel decreases over time.

There is no 6+ hour fuel cell helicopter, as JakeY mentioned below. The Spectrum XE from your link is a UAV that flies like a plane. Your comparison calculations are therefore nonsense.


Yeah, talking about hydrogen fuel when bragging about the advantage of fuel-powered aircraft, because they get lighter as the fuel is used up, is rather clueless. H2 has a very low weight compared to the energy stored, even when highly compressed, so you’re not gonna get much advantage there by depleting the tank.

The problem with using H2 as aviation fuel is that it has a very low energy to volume ratio. What you may gain in terms of lighter weight is much more than lost by all the additional space inside the aircraft needed to carry that much H2… not to mention the heavy fuel tanks needed to store that high a volume of highly compressed H2.

Without knowing how much fuel was use by this small drone, it’s not very relevant to say weight was a major factor to the length of flight.
But the helicopter flew with at least a pilot and some payload.

The article was talking about the small fixed wing UAV in the picture, not the helicopter. The drone is powered by a propane powered SOFC. While 8 hours is impressive, the gap is not quite as big as you suggest (there are 4 hour battery powered fixed wing UAVs).

It’s not really a solution if the fuel cost are off the scale.

There are so many non-battery haters on this website. As soon as someone posts anything that mentions advantages of something that is not battery or Tesla, they click thumb down. It is hilarious. LOL

Yeah, ok Ivan. 20 rubles for you.

Why shouldn’t he be rated down when he falsely claims a fuel cell helicopter got 8 hours flight time? That flight time was for the tiny UAV, so no pilot, passengers, or cargo. His point about the FCVs getting lighter as the H2 is burned is irrelevant, too.

Judging by the Mirai, you probably need 200kg of FC hardware (fuel cell stacks, tanks, etc) to get 200 kW of continuous power and 70 kWh of electrical energy. With about 230kg of today’s batteries, you could achieve the same.

Fuel cell’s weight advantage is pretty slim when it comes to helicopters, because they need high continuous power, so the fuel stack weight cuts into the energy density savings.

Blue Thunder whisper mode at last…


Yeah, the video is two years old. I wonder if they have continued development and made improvements over the last two years.

The video is from 2016, but the record was just set on Dec. 7, 2018. I clarified in the article. We were going to link to the press release, which is shown in the video description, but the link is not secure.

Ron Swanson's Mustache

Thanks for paying attention to things like lack of https:

The record was just added to the Guinness Book a few weeks ago per the press release.

Guinness all you want, I’m pretty sure they already beat that time!

Highly likely

No thumbs down from me

First, when balancing the relatively minor amount of pollution generated by a medi-flight vs an urgent, life-and-death situation, any rational person would prioritize life, so I fail to see why this is a problem anyone is spending money trying to solve (unless the whole, “we’re trying to deliver organs for babies in a green way – think about the children!” is just a signal cover to really develop an e-copter). Secondly, if you want to solve it, and its only application is the delivery of a small, light-weight item (organ) to a known, repetitive destination (hospital), then drones would be the much simpler and far more efficient way to do it.

It’s an experimental aircraft. Nobody is claiming this is practical for use as a medical rescue helicopter.

We should praise them for their accomplishment in breaking the record, not denigrate them because batteries still need some years of improvement before they are light enough to use them to power aircraft on commercial flights.


Excellent, nice to see electric jumping on to the helicopter as well. Some type of vertical lift plugin aircraft should be designed for the future.
I think the latest 1s with 4 rotors are better. May be thru the entire length of the copter, there should a pair of rotor on either side.
Like 6 rotors, 8 rotors, 12 rotors depending on the length.

It’ll be interesting to see what a purpose-built EV heli could do. The tail-rotor gives away ~30% of the power to begin with, so even a coaxial twin-rotor would be far more efficient, or twin-rotor CH-47 style.
A tilt wing quad-rotor that can provide lift from body/wings would also be far more efficient, as long as hover-mode isn’t paramount (since it would use smaller blades that run faster and thus generate more drag).
Beyond that, battery drones that can be dropped in flight (that return to a recharge station and shipped to a deployment zone) would drastically increase flight time.
Obviously there are many improvements to come, and it only gets better from here so fossil fuels are technically better used for construction of anything carbon-based (buildings/computer CPUs/robots etc).
The only case I can see for hydrocarbons is international flight. Synthetic methanol for example could be burned directly in gas-turbines, or run through a fuel cell to generate heat and electricity. In the case where heat is needed, the inefficiency of the Carnot cycle, or losses in a fuel cell may be an advantage.